A Thanksgiving in Tibet

It was a non-traditional Thanksgiving, to say the least. Out of the eighteen attendees, only six were American, and half of us were vegans. It was therefore decided that it would be a vegan/vegetarian Thanksgiving, which was probably best, since cooking anything—let alone meat—at 12,000 feet is no easy task.

The preparations for Lhasa’s first-ever International Vegan/Vegetarian Thanksgiving began weeks in advance, so that we could dig up hard to find ingredients—such as nutmeg—around the city, as well as figure out how to cook things at such an altitude. Our Thanksgiving was like an episode of Top Chef gone awry—“eighteen International contestants from across the globe have been challenged to cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal in the middle of Lhasa, elevation 11,800 feet, many of whom have never even eaten a Thanksgiving meal in their lives. They have sought out coveted ingredients like nutmeg, cinnamon, and rosemary for the dishes, which must be vegan or vegetarian, and they have each been given one single gas burner stove, and a single over-sized toaster oven to share. Let’s tune in to watch…”

Although the weeks went by with some suspense, there were no tense narrators over our shoulders that watched our every move and recounted it to television viewers. There were no kitchen fires, no yelling, no meltdowns, and no panel of judges. In fact, the entire meal seemed to come together quite seamlessly, and it tasted even better than expected. A German woman made creamy mashed potatoes, which were complimented beautifully by one American’s vegan-gluten-free mushroom gravy. A woman from India contributed colorful dishes of slightly spicy green beans and curried potatoes, whereas rosemary squash, corn, and mushroom-rice stuffing erred on the more conventional side. For dessert, A blonde Southern belle whipped up a scrumptious sweet potato casserole, complete with a praline-crusted topping. A native Californian baked two pumpkin pies and a pecan-inspired walnut pie, which were accompanied by apple pies made by a German attendee. A Parisian gentleman made banana flambé, and another German gentleman brought a selection of chocolate croissants from a nearby bakery. Last, but not least, were chocolate balls lovingly handmade by an Aussie.

The dishes were passed around one by one, and soon enough—in true Thanksgiving fashion—everyone was reclined on the sofas, hands held over their full stomachs, remarking on how they ate too much.

I thought that a sense of homesickness might overwhelm me, knowing that my family was in America, just starting their Thanksgiving Day. I knew I would be missing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television, and the dog shows and football games that inevitably follow afterward. I knew that I would be missing out on seeing family and friends that had come home from college or work to relax and eat too much, and that I would miss out on the annual good-humored sarcasm and ridicule from my brothers and cousins.

I thought about all that I would be missing out on, but I can’t say that I felt an inkling of homesickness. There was good food, incredible company, and I was in a beautiful city, surrounded by tall mountains and clear skies.

At the end of the meal, we each wrote down three things that we were thankful for, placed them in a bowl, and read them out loud to one another. The sentiments were all over the map—much like the attendees of the feast—and went from being utterly silly to deeply wholesome and heartfelt. I had no doubt that there was plenty to be thankful for, and when I chose to write that I was thankful to be sitting in Lhasa on Thanksgiving, surrounded by good food and good friends, I seriously meant it. I don’t think that I have ever had a better Thanksgiving—or a more non-traditional and challenging one.

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